How to Store Vegetables for Winter: Dry!
The one thing that applies to all vegetables and fruit you are storing for the winter is they have to be put away dry!
If you chose to wash everything before storing it, you must let it completely dry to prevent extra bacteria growth.
Even if you are storing produce like apples or carrots in your fridge, put them in dry.
I chose to store vegetables for winter without washing them first. I brush off extra dirt and mud and let them completely dry.
To do this quickly and with minimal mess, I spread newspaper or an old sheet out on my garage floor. I spread the produce on the newspaper or sheet one layer thick and let them sit for a day or two.
Letting them dry like this gives me one more chance to check for soft spots or rotten produce.
How to Store Vegetables for Winter: Inspect
All produce must be inspected before you put it into storage. One bruise on an apple will spoil the whole bunch. One rotten potato will spread to the whole bin.
Keep produce with soft or rotten spots out for immediate eating.
As I mentioned in my drying method above, it provides an extra opportunity for me to keep out bad produce.
How to Store Vegetables for Winter: Environment
Ideally you want to store produce in a dark, cool climate. You want some fresh air circulating through.
Just because you don’t have the “perfect” place to store produce doesn’t mean you can’t store any at all. It just means that your produce won’t keep as long.
Growing up, we had a warmer basement because we heated with a wood furnace. It was the only place we had to store food so we piled it in crates along an outside wall to keep it as cool as possible. Our produce just had to be eaten, frozen or canned before Christmas usually.
Whatever you do, don’t store apples near all your other produce. The gas that ripens apples will quickly spoil anything else nearby.
Also, newer houses may have in-floor heat in basements. Take time to check where the heat lines are running so you can avoid those areas for storing produce. Or shut off that zone of heat.
How to Store Vegetables
Potatoes – Potatoes are our family’s staple. Hash browns, mashed, fries, baked – we love them. So I usually have a bunch to store. I had my husband cut a big plastic barrel in half the long ways and drill a few holes on the bottom of both sides for air flow.
I use these half barrels to store my potatoes in so they have good air reaching the bottom and a large surface area on top.
Because my root cellar is not closed off yet from the rest of our basement, I throw a blanket over the top to keep the light out of them.
Winter Squash – Check your seed catalog for the best time frames on storing winter squash. Some varieties store longer than others so keep that in mind for which ones to eat first.
I do the thumbnail check. I poke my thumbnail through the skin of a winter squash.
[This damages them and makes them keep shorter. But after doing it once or twice, I don’t have to anymore.]
Depending on the hardness or thickness of the skin tells me how long it will last. I keep the thick skinned ones to eat or freeze last.
Check out this chart for more official storing guidelines than the thumbnail check!
I brush off excess dirt and let the squash dry completely before putting it in crates in the basement in the coolest spot.
Pumpkins – Pumpkins vary by variety just like winter squash. Here again, I check with my thumbnail if I don’t remember what the seed catalog said about storage life.
Red Beets – I can or freeze a lot of red beets but I like to keep some for fresh eating. We are blessed to have an extra fridge in our garage so I put my red beets in a grocery bag in the bottom drawer. They keep a full year in there.
Onions – After you have pulled your onions you want to make sure they get good and dry. If your tops are decent you can braid the onions together and hang them in a cool, dark, dry place.
Otherwise store them in an open, ventilated container. Not near potatoes! Onion ripening gases will cause potatoes and other produce to spoil quicker.
Apples – I know, apples aren’t vegetables. But they are commonly stored in the same fashion.
As with winter squash, each variety of apple has its own keeping time. Find out what variety of apples you have and store accordingly.
In general, green and/or tart apples will keep longer in storage. Not near potatoes! Gases released from ripening apples will also cause quicker spoilage in other produce.
Personally, I don’t store apples for fresh eating. So all I have to worry about is keeping the onions separated. They are usually kept in my garage and the rest of my produce is kept in the basement.
Store in the Garden
Carrots – I can store carrots the same way as red beets in my fridge. I keep one produce drawer full of carrots, the other red beets.
If you don’t have an extra fridge you can store dry carrots in covered up in bins of dry sand in a cool spot in your basement.
But don’t rush to dig your carrots. If a gentle frost is predicted, it will make them sweeter. Yet a harsh frost and ruin carrots especially if any orange is showing.
You can also just leave your carrots in the garden. I live in Wisconsin so to store them this way I would cover the carrots with cakes of straw. This gives the carrots good insulation from freezing. As you want carrots, just pull back a cake of straw and dig. Replace the straw as needed.
Be careful of losing your carrots in the snow! You may have to leave your digging fork upright next to your carrots so you can find them under the snow.
If you plant in raised beds, this may not work. I’ve never tried it in raised beds. Because the soil is out of the ground, just placing straw on top will not be enough protection from deep freezing. Perhaps if you placed straw all the way around the raised bed…?
Parsnips – Parsnips actually get sweeter if dug the next spring! Just cover parsnips with straw as you would carrots and leave them until February or March. Then you can begin digging them as needed.
Of course you can eat them in the fall if you want. They just won’t be as flavorful.
If your aren’t sure that you have the perfect conditions for storing produce just start small. Choose your best storage environment and see how long you can keep a couple squash.
The next year you can store even more produce. You could be munching on your own fresh garden produce in the middle of winter now that you know how to store vegetables!